The Suffering of Job (Part 2)–A sermon on Job 1:20-2:10

Preached at United Reformed Church of Clifton
on Sunday, June 21, 2020

Sermon #2 in a Series on the Book of Job: “What Good People Do When Bad Things Happen.”
To hear the sermon preached follow this link https://www.facebook.com/105243486193626/videos/567270900882044/
William Blake, Job’s Comforters, Linell Set, 1826

This is the second sermon in our series on Job: “What Good People Do When Bad Things Happen.”

Last week we ended our sermon in a very awful place.  In rapid succession Job learned that all of his sheep, camels, oxen and donkeys had been stolen or killed by a natural disaster.  Before he even had time to let that all sink in, he learned that all 10 of his children had died when a windstorm caused their house to collapse on them. 

How would you have reacted if that had been you?  You’ve had a week to live with that question.  And so this morning we are going to take up with where we left off to see how Job handled his losses as we look at the end of Chapter 1 and continue the story in Chapter 2. 

The story again falls into 3 parts

  1. In Chapter 1:17-20 we see JOB’S FAITHFUL RESPONSE TO HIS SUFFERING
  2. In Chapter 2: 1-8 we see a SECOND ATTACK ON JOB’S MOTIVATIONS.
  3. In Chapter 2:9-10 we see that CRACKS BEGIN TO APPEAR IN JOB’S FAITH

I invite you to follow along in your Bible as we go through this verse by verse.

1. JOB’S FAITHFUL RESPONSE TO HIS SUFFERING, Job 1:20-22

When Job learned that he had lost not only all his wealth but also his family, Job did three things.

First, he gave expression to his grief.  Verse 20 says that “Job rent his robe, and shaved his head, and fell upon the ground.”  In ancient times these were socially sanctioned rituals practical ways to express their grief. 

Ours, however, is a grief denying generation and many of our practices have gone by the way.   Nowadays you’ll hear people saying that they don’t want a funeral service when they die.  They also say that they just want to have a celebration of life.  A celebration is fine, but it is also right and good to grieve.

We do ourselves a very great disservice to minimize our grief.  Alexander MacClaren, a 19th century Scottish theologian, says this, about Job’s grief.

It is worth our while to stay for one moment with the thought that we are meant to feel grief. It is natural. That is enough. God set the fountain of tears in our souls. 

MacClaren’s Expositions, https://biblehub.com/commentaries/job/1-20.htm

There can be no progress towards healing without tears.

Second, Job acknowledged his own mortality.  He says, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.” 

Not only do we deny our grief we also have a hard time facing our mortality. In 1993, country music star, Joe Diffie, had a popular hit entitled, “Prop me up beside the jukebox.”  The words to the chorus went like this,

Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die.
Lord, I wanna go to heaven,
but I don’t wanna go tonight.
Fill my boots up with sand,
put a stiff drink in my hand.
Prop me up beside the jukebox if I die.

Joe Diffie, “Prop Me Up Beside the Jukebox if I Die,” 1993

What I find ironic about this song is the phrase, “if I die.” Not “when I die,” but “if I die!”  (As if there was only a remote possibility that he would die.) This week I googled Mr. Diffie, only to discover that he died of Covid-19 on March 29, 2020.  We are all mortal; a lesson we have learned afresh during this time of Covid-19.  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, naked shall I return.”

Third, Job clung to his faith in God.  Job’s final words are “Yahweh gave, and Yahweh has taken away; blessed be the name of the Yahweh.” Your version probably says, “The Lord gave,” but the Hebrew is actually the name “Yahweh.” Notice three things here.

First, Job uses Yahweh’s name to expresses a deep personal relationship with God.  There are two main words for God in the OT—Elohim and Yahweh.  Elohim is the generic name for God; Yahweh however, is God’s covenant name, a family name, that only the children of God may call him. Job calls God, Yahweh.

Second, Job repeats God’s covenant name three times in order to cling all the closer to God. Gerald Janzen has this comment to make about verse 21. “The threefold repetition of Yahweh’s name achieves intense emphasis.” (Gerald Janzen, Job: Interpretation a Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching, 1985: John Knox Press) It would be as if in a moment of great distress we were to whisper, “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus.”

Third, these verses tell us Job fell to the ground to worship and that his final words were “blessed be the name of the Lord.”  Now truth be told, if I had just lost my four children, I’m not sure that I would be able to say, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.” But Job does; he remains faithful. Professor Kathryn Schifferdecker offers this helpful comment.

To those who would dismiss Job’s response as overly pious, it must be said that these words are faithful. Stripped of all that gave his life meaning, Job clings to the God who gave him life in the first place.

However, to those who would hold up this response as the only proper way to respond to suffering, it must be said that this is not Job’s last word, and that what follows in the rest of the book—Job’s long and anguished lament—is also faithful. (Working Preacher)

Kathryn M Schifferdecker, Working Preacher, October 7, 2012, https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=1421

In other words, if you don’t think that you could follow Job’s example here, stick around.  There is more than one faithful way to deal with suffering as we shall see both this week and in the weeks to come.

The final words in 1:22 are “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.”  Job remained faithful. 

2. Transition: A SECOND ATTACK ON JOB’S MOTIVATION,  Job 2:1-8

Although Job passes the test in Chapter 1, Chapter 2:1-8 presents him with a new attack on his motivation.

The scene shifts again and we are back in the heavenly court and God is again bragging about Job.  The words in Chapter 2:1-3 are the exact same words as the first time the satan appeared in God’s royal court in Chapter 1.  The only difference is the final words in the second scene where God says to the inspector general, “Job still holds fast to his integrity, although you moved me against him, to destroy him without cause.”  In other words, God gives Job an A+ on his exam and rubs the satan’s nose in it.

But the inspector general has one more card up his sleeve.  He now argues that God has not fully tested Job’s piety. Instead he offers God another bet.  Basically he says “Double or nothing.  Skin for skin! Let me take away Job’s health and we’ll see how faithful he really is.” 

Again God places great confidence in Job and takes the bet. So the satan puts his plan into action. He afflicts Job with boils that leave him in such great pain that all he can do is pick at his sores with a broken piece of pottery.

3.  CRACKS BEGIN TO SHOW IN JOB’S FAITH, Job 2: 9-10

So how does Job react to this second test?  Gerald Janzen points out that there are 6 subtle differences between Job’s first response in Chapter 1 and his second response in Chapter 2. These differences show that Job had been pushed to the limit and that cracks have begun to show in his faith.

First, Job lashes out at his wife.  In verse 9 his wife says, “Do you still hold fast your integrity? Curse God and die.”  Now many commentators think that she is piling on and adding to Job’s misery.  They say that instead of showing him some sympathy she makes his situation worse by giving very cutting advice and so Job is fully justified to lambast and demean her. I disagree.

Gerald Janzen points out that there is something much subtler going on.  and

Job roundly chastises his wife because she has touched something raw in himself and given voice to his own unspoken thoughts. It is Job’s awareness of such a possibility of cursing God, already welling up within himself, and his horror of choosing it, which gives his outburst such force.

Janzen, op. cit.

Job is still trying to be the good pious man and so he projects his own doubts and fears onto his wife and blasts her so that he doesn’t have to admit to himself that he is thinking the exact same thing.

Second, Job stops using the name of Yahweh. In the Chapter 1, Job used Yahweh’s name three times. However, in Chapter 2, Job calls God, Elohim” and he only says his name once.  Remember, Elohim is the less personal way to talk about God. By using this name Job is taking a step back from God and spiritually (or might I say, socially?) distancing himself.  He keeps God at arm’s length in order to minimize his own pain.

Third, there is a shift in Job’s confidence level.  In Chapter 1 he makes a confident, but heart-broken, affirmation of faith, “Blessed be the name of the Lord.”  In Chapter 2, however, he asks a somewhat hesitant, rhetorical question. “Shall we receive good at the hand of God and not evil?” The 1st affirmation is bold; the 2nd question is timid and tentative by comparison.

Fourth, Job shifts from talking in the singular to using the plural.  In Chapter 1 he says, “Naked I came, and naked I shall return.”  But in Chapter 2 he says, “Shall we receive good from God and not evil.”  It seems that he is falling back on what he learned in church and Sunday School. He is reciting a pious platitude by rote instead of expressing a firmly-held, personal conviction. “This is what I was taught, and this is what everyone is supposed to say, so I’ll say it.”

Fifth, there is a shift from focusing on God to focusing on himself.  In Chapter 1, “God” is the subject of the sentence and the verb form is active, “The Lord gave, the Lord took.”  In Chapter 2 “we” is the subject and the verb form is passive: “Shall we receive.”  Although he mentions God, his eyes are primarily on himself.

Sixth, notice the subtle difference in the way each scene ends.  In Chapter 1 the scripture says, “In all this Job did not sinor charge God with wrong.”  However, in Chapter 2 the scripture says, “In all this Job did not sin with his lips.” That leaves an open question hanging in the air—“But what about his heart? What is Job really thinking in his heart?”

All of this suggests that Job is beginning to crack under the relentless assault of his suffering.  And who can blame him?

Conclusion

In conclusion: as you may recall, I’ve entitled this sermon series “What Good People Do, When Bad Things Happen.”  In this series we’re not trying to find an intellectual answer to why there is suffering in the world.  Rather we are trying to find coping resources that allow us to keep our faith in God and continue to serve him.  My hope is that Job’s story will resonant with yours and that you can use his story to cultivate an honest and faithful relationship with God. 

This morning we have seen two different ways that Job responded to great suffering.  In Chapter 1 we saw faithful Job who worshipped God in the face of suffering and in Chapter 2 we saw a battered and questioning Job who is slowly drawing into his shell and away from God in order to cope with his suffering. 

Next week we will see a rage-filled Job who pours out his anger and despair.  In later Chapters we will also discover a hopeful Job, a Job who has a face-to-face encounter with God and a Job who learns to love and risk again.  All of these different Jobs live in our hearts and our experience. My hope is that one or all of them may speak to you and help to shape your response to the suffering you will experience in your life.

Let me close this sermon with a quote from Philip Yancey, a Christian author, who has spent many years writing about the problem of suffering.

I once shared a small group with a Christian leader whose name you would likely recognize. He went through a very hard time as his teenage kids got into trouble, bringing him sleepless nights and expensive legal bills. To make matters worse, my friend himself was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. We listened to his complaints and suggested various answers, but he batted them away like pesky insects.

A few weeks later I came across a phrase buried in a book by Dallas Willard. It read, “Nothing irredeemable has happened or can happen to us on our way to our destiny in God’s full world.” I went back to my friend. “What about that?” I asked. “Is God good for that promise—that nothing is irredeemable?” “Maybe so,” he answered wistfully. “Maybe even this can be redeemed.”

from Philip Yancey’s Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/PhilipYancey/photos/a.430130023698153/3327799220597871/?type=3&theater

This is Job’s hope. This is our hope as we face suffering: “Maybe even this can be redeemed.”

2 thoughts on “The Suffering of Job (Part 2)–A sermon on Job 1:20-2:10

  1. Great exegesis as always, Pastor Mike. Love your brain and heart working together in excellence. As some of us are perhaps forced to contemplate death as perhaps a closer reality, I have found studying the Tanahk and Torah much more edifying than perhaps what we have “done” to the “New Testament”, and the book of Job is more relevant to modern philosophies and thought than ever and as you do in your sermon, more needed for those who would still long to know and follow Yahweh. On a different note, though, I read and meditated on the following quote this past week, and thought it might be interesting as a parallel or paradox to your truthful thoughts on our unwillingness to think about the certainty of our death: From Soren Kierkegaard: “Eternity is a very radical thought, and thus a matter of inwardness. Whenever the reality of the eternal is affirmed, the present becomes something entirely different from what it was apart from it. This is precisely why human beings fear it (under the guise of fearing death). You often hear about particular governments that fear the restless elements of society. I prefer to say that the entire age is a tyrant that lives in fear of the one restless element: the thought of eternity. It does not dare to think it. Why? Because it crumbles under – and avoids like anything – the weight of inwardness.” Shalom — Jane

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